How "Catfish" Prepared Max Joseph For "We Are Your Friends"
BuzzFeed - Latest 2015-08-29
Writer director Max Joseph’s major film debut stars Zac Efron as an EDM DJ — but don’t let that stop you from giving it a chance.
Max Joseph with Emily Ratajkowski and Zac Efron at the Chicago premiere of We Are Your Friends.
Timothy Hiatt / Getty Images
On paper, Max Joseph's new movie We Are Your Friends might sound like the electronic music industry's version of Entourage.
It stars Zac Efron as Cole, an aspiring DJ surrounded by a group of hard-partying twentysomething manchildren, with Emily Ratajkowski playing his pseudo love interest.
And Joseph already knows what you think of his major film debut— especially if you haven't seen it yet.
"There's a lot of low-hanging fruit," he told BuzzFeed News at the Burbank coffee shop Romancing the Bean, where parts of the movie were filmed. "You want to talk about Zac and High School Musical? You want to talk about Emily and 'Blurred Lines'? You want to talk about me and Catfish? You want to talk about EDM culture? You want to talk about bro culture?"
Smiling broadly, Joseph admitted, "It sounds like it could be the worst movie ever."
But We Are Your Friends has an emotional throughline and, perhaps more importantly, a sense of self-awareness that makes the movie a pleasant surprise.
This isn't Joseph's first feature film, but it's certainly his biggest. While serving as co-host of MTV's reality series Catfish, Joseph has continued his career as a director of documentaries and what he terms "creative nonfiction." His 2013 mini-doc 12 Years of DFA: Too Old to Be New, Too New to Be Classic was his first filmmaking foray into electronic dance music, centered on the independent record label of the title. We Are Your Friends continues that work on a larger scale, and with a fictional story, devised by Joseph and co-writer Meaghan Oppenheimer, that moves forward along with that EDM beat.
"What's funny is people see it as, Oh, here's this big studio, your first big studio movie, and I'm like, I mean, yes, that's what it looks like, but it got there in a cool way," Joseph said. The movie, which was made for around $6 million, was already shot when Warner Bros. acquired it. Before filming, Efron signed on to the then-indie because he loved the script. "We made it independently with a very small group of people," Joseph said. "And Warner Bros. came on and they had some great ideas."
Efron in We Are Your Friends.
Warner Bros. Pictures
The goal was to make We Are Your Friends something that could be enjoyed by those with only a passing knowledge of electronic music as well as those deeply enmeshed in the EDM scene. "You could just make something that's totally insider and that only pleases the subject, but then it's a fluff piece and you're only pandering to the insiders. On the flip side, you could make something that's kind of a layman's introduction to that world, but you run the risk of completely alienating the subject and the insiders," Joseph said. "You have to walk this fine line of representing it and opening the door just enough to outsiders to let them in and understand why you love this thing, or why this thing is worth your time, especially if they have preconceived notions of it."
The key was authenticity: At the bare minimum, if We Are Your Friends looked and sounded true to life, it would be a lot tougher to dismiss. Although Joseph and Oppenheimer were writing their own characters and situations, it was important for the writers to maintain a level of emotional honesty. As it turned out, much of Joseph's research was accidental, the result of his nearly four-season stint as co-host of Catfish.
"I've spent the last three years hanging out with a lot of kids in their twenties, in their towns, in their houses, just seeing how they live and talking with them, really having big heart-to-hearts with people about their fears and insecurities and what they want out of life," he said. "I would come home after shooting, and at the hotel that we were at in whatever city, I would write these scenes and lines that I heard during the day or things I saw at their houses, or situations I witnessed."
As much as it may make him an easy punch line, Joseph's work on Catfish is part of what has helped him create a film that's steeped in youth culture. Though still a young filmmaker at 33, Joseph is after all closer in age to Wes Bentley, whose character in the film is often treated as past his prime, than he is to Efron.
With authentic characters